Doing Research on the Internet: Cautionary Note
Let the browser beware. The "information superhighway" is full of
potholes. Besides information (truth), there is much misinformation (falsehood);
even disinformation (lies). The reliability of the "information" you access
online cannot simply be taken for granted. Though it is well to remember
that in intellectual life, as in life generally, "there are no guarantees,"
at least print media (books and journal articles) are generally subject
to peer review and editorial oversight; and are generally the better for
it. The careless and the crack-brained tend to get weeded out, and what
remains tends to be credible (though, again, there are no guarantees).
On the internet, on the other hand, anyone can publish anything at all;
and they do.
"So, Dr. Hauser," you ask, "what can I do to steer clear of the crackpot
notions and faux `facts'? How do I distinguish the incredible and discreditable
from the true and the trustworthy? How do I avoid the potholes on
the information superhighway?" The following suggestions may help:
Use your common sense. If it has a certain supermarket-checkout-line
quality about it -- if it seems wildly implausible in a sensational sort
of way -- that's a bad sign. Reports of miracles are probably false.
Consider the source:
Multiply your sources. Idiocy tends to be idiosyncratic. Sapience
is apt to be shared. In general, the more sources who agree on X, the more
likely it is that X is true; especially if you also heed the next.
Balance your sources. Checking & comparing the "information"
you find at www.pro_life.com, against the "information" at www.pro_choice.com
is apt to be useful and edifying. Checking & comparing the "information"
you find at www.pro_life against that at www.stop_abortion_now, is apt
to be less so.
Read critically, like a philosopher; not with a "this is so" attitude
-- the sort of attitude appropriate to reading a science or history textbook
-- but with an "is that so?" attitude; even with a chip on your shoulder.
Habits of mind appropriate to reading philosophy (where all is open to
question, where all is subject to doubt) are also appropriate to what you
find on the net.
Use the sources provided here.
Back to: My Philosophy Resources Page
My Virtual Office
The credentials of the (individual or institutional) author of the
"information." If www.stanford.edu/physics reports the discovery of a new
force; that's credible. If www.psychic_hotline.com reports the same; that's
not. If the author is an individual, consider their degrees, publications,
& institutional affiliations: look at their C.V. (Curriculum Vitae:
their academic resume). If their web page includes no such information,
wonder why. Also, if the spelling and grammar are bad, suspect the "information"
and ideas expressed to be of like quality.
The interestedness or disinterestedness of the author of the "information."
If the R. J. Reynolds site has skads of "information" "proving" that cigarette
smoke is really good for you take it with a grain of salt. In fact, pass
the shaker. If www.harvard.edu/medicine reports the same; pass the smokes.